Bartender Talent Academy 2018

On the 21st of July, after much prep and hard work, I had won the first leg of the Remy Martin bartending competition. I felt honored that Molecular Bars had chosen me to be their rep and that the hard work had finally paid off and a delicious cocktail was made. Winning the first leg had meant that I could compete in the global competition run by Remy Martin Bartender Talent Academy.

On the 21st of October, Alex Fahrenheim (who had won the second leg of the Bartender Talent Academy competition) and I jetsetted off to France to Cognac. It was a long flight but I couldn’t remember much because I fell asleep the entire plane trip (only woke up for food and the land). Navigating our through the airport we finally found where the train station was enjoyed some food and beverages. This is when we opened our suitcases and made sure that all our ingredients and glassware were still tact. Sighs of relief across the board.

Next mode of travel was on a two hour trip to Cognac. Alex fell asleep for most of the trip and I enjoyed the views of watching the scene change from city-like to country-side greenery. As we stepped out of the train station, we were greeted by a gentlemen who had a sign that said Remy Martin and I must say I kind of felt like we were being treated like celebrities. Another 45minute drive and we finally got to our accommodation – Quai des Pontis. Finally having time to unpack and unwind, relaxation was the first point of order whilst sipping on the little bottle of Remy Martin XO that we received with our information pack.

Instead of relaxing for too long, me being the ultimate tourist knocked on Alex’s door and told him we are going on adventure. Cognac is the home of all things Cognac, and so we went on out to get some baguettes and a pain au chocolat and got lost in this little town. We visited the visiting museum of Remy Martin. Although we couldn’t go inside (just yet) it was a confirmation for both of us that we had finally made it. After getting lost for a few, we headed home, read the competition rules and I had taken a power nap that lasted a bit too long, whilst the other competitors met up for dinner.

Day 1

At breakfast, I had met all the competitors and the international brand ambassador of Remy Martin and Louis XII- Maxime Pulci. Privileged enough everyone spoke English and there was no real language barrier between us all. In total there were 11 of us. The competitors and new friends were:

  • Alex Onwudiwe – Toronto
  • Alex Farenheim – Johannesburg
  • Karen Grill – Los Angeles
  • Emily Arseneau – USA (who was one of the judges)
  • Sara Kowalczyk – Cracow
  • TB Liljehammar – Finland
  • Sebastian Kruger- Copenhagen
  • Michal Fink – London
  • Dany Laycock – Leeds
  • Himanshu Desai – Mumbai
  • Ron Tal – Tel Aviv

Maxine, introduced himself and told us that there was a full 2 days of experience before we get to the competition. First stop was the vineyards.

The vineyards was beautiful and it took my breath away that a single woman (#girlpower) takes care of 16 hectares of land in order to produce the best grapes for the Eu die vie. Sonja is very passionate about her job as it was done by her great grandfather, grandfather and now her. She gets minimal help as she explained how hard the job can be especially with all the rain. She believes in being natural – organic – and giving back to the Earth.

After this we headed off to another secret location as Maxine would say. We were treated with a skit when we walked in of a man joking and coughing horrendously. Emily and I were convinced that the man was not okay but soon found out that he was just acting. They did this to explain the origins of Remy Martin as being used primarily for medicinal purposes and how the Mint Julep (with an apricot purée twist) came into play. We then enjoyed some little tapas whilst we chatted amongst ourselves before heading inside for a 3 course meal. The food was delicious and singed on your taste buds. The food was cooked to perfection and there was silence in the room as people munched away. Here is where we learnt how small the world really is. Karen and Emily (from America) knew a few fellow South Africans. Emily had know Caitlin Hill and Karen had known AJ Snetler as well as Travis Kun.

In the evening we had gone to the distillery and met with the Master distiller himself who relies on his nose and taste to know when the flavor is just right. He explained to us the distilling process and made us taste some of the eu die vie he uses for distillation. He was an inspiration and I hope to one develop a pallet like him. We later enjoyed another 3 course meal. Although I was still full from earlier’s meal, I did eat what I could and surprisingly because it was so good I ate most of it. We enjoyed some old fashioneds in 3 ways and continued to chat away.

Even later into the evening, we went to a cave into a cave. Although everyone thought this was the part in which we die or that we were going into a cave rave, we were rather blasted with historical fun fact about Remy Martin and its history. We enjoyed some warm [blaze drinks] on the chilly winter evening. We received some amazing post cards of the place and were lucky enough to walk and be in this place.

Day 2

Bright and early, we ate breakfast, chatted some more and headed off to place in which they make the barrels. We saw how each barrel gets made and how NB it is to toast the barrels and make sure there were no leaks or any contaminated wood when making the barrels. The barrels are constantly checked after each process and it did look like a very labor intensive activity but these men made it look too easy.

Later on we went to the place in which we were not allowed to take photos because it’s very top secret. We went to where they age the barrels. There is the first floor and the basement. Each level had a different smell and it was so yummy and earthy, and these smells played a role in the aging process of the aging process. We met with the cellar master, who was going to make a sneaky trip to Cape Town, South Africa very soon.

In the late morning the bus took us to the La Maison in which a table of delicious treat were laid out on the table. This table was all the flavor notes that can be recognized by the Remy Martin XO. It ranged from dark chocolate, Parmesan cheese, apricots and ginger. It was mind blowing to see how many flavors were evident in this bottle of Cognac.


After meeting the panel of judges, which were surprisingly a lot of women, we all rushed to prepare some ingredients and get dressed and make sure we knew our stories behind our cocktail and how the slashes influenced your drink.

The competition was broken off into 4 parts

1. Storytelling:

Explaining what inspired your cocktail. Here I spoke heavily about the relationship we have with earth and how we need to make drinks that we can have a positive role on the Mother Nature. My whole idea was keeping this simple, not taking too much from the earth and creating an umami drink that would remind us of the relationship we have with Mother Nature. Umami in Zulu means mother, and so I linked this with the ideas brought on from my grandmother, who doesn’t like sweet things and instilled the whole of idea give and take relationship because she was a farmer too.

2. Blind tasting

Our cocktails were made in a room and poured into black glasses in which a panel of judges would taste your drink and give their verdict.

3. Make your cocktail

This round was too see how you make your cocktail and how you work behind a bar. Another panel of judges looked if you had maybe flair in your work, if your technique was on par and if there’s something maybe innovative that you do.


4. Secret challenge

I guess you’re going to have to find this one out when you get there. It’s a little weird, a little odd but in the end you learn something new about yourself.

After this we chatted and unwinded and I paced up and down as I stared at my cracked recently fixed screen. I had a sneaky power nap, before dolling up and dressing up for the 1920’s themed award ceremony. Before this we had gone to the Maison in which we were treated to a tour of the history of Remy Martin and went into a museum of the bottles in the different generations. We weren’t allowed to take photos of this part of the tour.

Each bartender and won something in a different category and so it felt as though everyone had won in their own way. The different categories were audacity, authenticity, generosity, art de vivre and excellence. I had won in the audacity category which was a category explained as someone who uses bold flavors and dares to go outside the box. I was humbled. We later then danced and enjoyed the evening after the announcement was made that:

1st: TB Liljehammar

2nd: Himanshu Desai

3rd: Alex Fahrenheim – who I hugged a little too tight because I was proud of him and for holding that SA flag high.

Day 3

A day of traveling was filled with today with exciting new bars to visit and a tour around Paris. After checking into the hotel, we had a few hours to spare before yet another surprise. So the camera-man and I decided to be tourists and go to some beautiful places. Not realizing how far they were, we had to RUN and I mean RUN back in order to make it in time. It was the first time I had done any exercise in a while and after so many 3 course meals, girl was feeling a little unfit. We made it though.

The surprise was a tour of Paris in side cars! It was super cool and super breath-taking. The city is such a lovely place to explore. We got close to the water and saw how scary the water levels have been dropping, saw where David Beckham stayed when he was here with Victoria Beckham for fashion week, where the president stays, the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. We stopped of at Hemingway Bar in where we learnt about the owner and his love for classics and the wealthy people who he serves. We later stopped at another bar, in which was secretly located behind a barber shop. Very olden music singalongs that we all jammed to.

In the evening was when we decided to get a little festive as our last trip for the evening was a place called. We enjoyed the night away and got home at the odd hours of the morning.

Day 4 – Alex and Nkuli go exploring

So Alex and I don’t follow maps, we believe that the best way to experience a place is to get lost in it and that’s exactly what we did on my last day in Paris. We started off at a cute little cafe in Paris in which we had a croissant with ham and cheese whilst Alex had a ham baguette. We decided to have a little pastry because France and so we both had eclairs.

So as most of you know by my Cape Town post, I kind of have a small obsession with ice cream. When walking around with the camera guy (whose name is Jean Vital) one of day 3, he told me about this ice cream shop that was super yum and so I had to try it – but I kind of forgot where it was so we went with intuition for a solid 45-60 mins till eventually Alex advised we stop for a beer and then connect to some WiFi and then google maps this place. We eventually found it and I think it was such a perfect way to end the trip.

We walked and walked and walked as I really wanted to see the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. We passed many little shops as well as bookstores that line the streets.

Thank you to Maxine, Teresa, Lauraine, Helen and the rest of Bartender Talent Academy organizers for such a magical trip, the connections I’ve made and better understand to what actually goes into a bottle of Remy Martin.

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